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The winning service

The world of insurance is becoming increasingly compli-cated. People employed in this sector are facing a number of pressures: increased reduction in margins, the introduction of stakeholder pensions, the arrival of new entrants in the market, the potential dismantling of polarisation and the introduction of new technology – the list is endless.

All these factors are putting mounting pressure on insurance providers and IFAs.Moreover, customers are now demanding higher standards of service across the board and the insurance industry is struggling to keep up.

Recent investigations into financial misselling scandals, such as endowments and pensions, make consumers even more wary of buying personal finance products. Insurance providers and IFAs are under scrutiny to retain and increase the value of existing clients and attract new ones.

But the majority of new business is now likely to be generated by selling new products to existing customers. Both insurance providers and IFAs must, therefore, become experts in cross-selling. This is where technology can help.

Mortgages, for example, typically take several weeks to complete and the customer is often left in the dark about how far the application has progressed and what is holding it up. Gazumping and chain collapses are still reasonably frequent occurrences and mortgage providers and IFAs need to be able to quell customers&#39 fears by sharing knowledge every step of the way and highlighting potential problems before they jeopardise the customer&#39s house sale or purchase.

Any mortgage application involves at least five parties — including surveyors, mortgage providers, credit-checkers, banks and the buildings insurance providers. It could be the role of the IFA or mortgage provider to co-ordinate all these parties and report progress back to the customer.

At the same time, he or she could be sorting out the best mortgage deal, supported by the most suitable life insurance and investment products as well as sourcing extras such as buildings and contents insurance.

Technology is now available to co-ordinate all of the stages of the mortgage process and the financial products that support this. With the right solutions, the IFA could cut down on the time and stress during this highly sensitive time. If they get it right, these advisers will secure loyal customers.

Document and content management technologies are designed to help companies control and manage the information within its systems and so provide a faster, more effective quality of service to customers.

Insurance companies have recognised that knowledge is key to successful business. But they are stuck with huge amounts of information spread across disparate systems. Customer-related correspondence and information lie scattered around the organisation in unrelated filing systems and legacy systems in a huge variety of different formats. This means different departments cannot communicate with one another to share this information effectively.

Technology should allow insurance providers and IFAs to adapt their communication methods with their custo-mers. For example, one mortgage applicant may prefer to conduct all business via email whereas another may want to talk through advice on the phone and follow it up with a letter. SMS, WAP phones and interactive palm-held devices present even more opportunities. It is important for the providers and IFAs to recognise what channels the customer prefers and to have systems which can make the information within the company easily available, no matter what the communication channel of choice.

So could technology be employed? A couple approaches an insurance provider for private medical insurance, because the husband has recently suffered a mild stroke.

The insurance provider can either fill in this application electronically or digitally scan the paper application form, reducing errors caused by paper-based records, and ensuring the form is less likely to be lost or destroyed.

The provider can then manage and track this application as it is processed and may be able to tell the couple of any hold-up, such as if there is outstanding information from the couple&#39s doctor or private consultant.

This eases the customer&#39s peace of mind and increases levels of customer service, which the couple will have learnt to expect from other consumer goods and services.

Since the IFA knows that the husband has suffered a stroke, the insurance provider could also review the waiver of contribution terms of the man&#39s personal pension and offer an additional service to support him.

The IFA or provider creates an opportunity to act as a consultant and adviser and may sell additional products and can track them at the same time. The technology which manages all this customer information and the business process brings increased efficiency and better customer service.

Further, the information the customer needs can be disseminated by a variety of means such as with text message updates, by email or by phone and letter, depending what suits the customer best. All this should serve to exceed customer expectations and increase levels of service.

The benefits of implementing technology in the insurance sector are clear. Pro- viders and advisers can red-uce margins for error, inc-rease application approval turn-around times and concentrate on serving the customer better and attracting new customers.

With increased competition and customers demanding higher standards, the insurance industry cannot afford to ignore the opportunities that simple, affordable and available technology now presents.

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Walter Merricks

Lives: Highgate, North LondonBorn: June 4, 1945, in East SussexAge: 56Education: Bradfield College, Berkshire and Trinity College, OxfordCareer to date: Director of Camden Community Law Centre, Writer for New Law Journal, Head of Communications at the Law Society, Insurance OmbudsmanCareer Ambition: “Very happy with whatI am doing now, thank you.”Life ambition: “To win the tennis […]

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